While Fairfield Prep had some good, solid wins during the regular season, the Jesuits endured some tough challenges against elite teams like Darien (two losses) and Notre Dame-West Haven (loss, tie).
Prep, as it always does, flipped that switch, got in its usual postseason state of mind and won some close, hard-fought games to come away with its second straight Division I state title with a 2-1 overtime win against Darien in the championship game on Saturday at Ingalls Rink.
The Jesuits (16-4-3) won their 16th state title — 15 in D-I, one in D-II in 1977 — and end the season as the No. 1 team in the final Register Top 10 Poll.
Prep received 16 of 17 first-place votes and 169 points, with Darien (22-4-1) finishing No. 2 with the other first-place vote and 152 points. Notre Dame-Fairfield (18-5-1), which had an 11-game win streak snapped by Darien in the state semifinals, is third with 131 points.
As fate and the D-I seedings would have it, Prep ultimately had to face Notre Dame-West Haven and Darien to get that 16th title.
“The most rewarding thing about this run was that we were 0-3-1 against Notre Dame-West Haven and Darien in the regular season,” Prep coach Matt Sather said.
“To beat them back-to-back in overtime shows me that this team improved throughout the year and learned a little toughness along the way. I think any proof of improvement is always the most rewarding aspect of coaching.”
Getting contributions from underclassmen and players not usually in the limelight helped make this championship season a little more unique for Sather.
“All the championships are different,” Sather said. “This season was most rewarding because you could see the players improving every day in practice. Our performance in the games was up and down, but the improvement in practice was tangible.
“In the end, our seniors led us, but (sophomore) Justin Blanchette set up the winning goal against Glastonbury (in the quarterfinals), (sophomore) Will Schlichtig scored a key goal against Notre Dame, and our rookie defenseman Vinny D’Amore got the game-winner against Darien.”
For Sather, finishing No. 1 in the final poll reflects all the hard work and effort his players put into this season.
“It is always nice to get recognized by your peers and by the people who spend the most time around the game,” Sather said. “They are the ones who know how hard the kids work on a daily basis. It will make a perfect last page in our team scrapbook that the guys can look back on to remember this season.”